The operator of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, which capsized in 2014 with the deaths of four men, has been convicted of failing to operate the vessel in a safe manner
Douglas Innes has been found guilty of failing to ensure the safety of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, which capsized mid-Atlantic in 2014, with the deaths of four men.
Innes, the director of Stormforce Coaching, and the company, Stormforce Coaching, which operated the yacht, were separately convicted of failing to ensure the vessel was operated in a safe manner between 18 March, 2013 and 18 May, 2014, contrary to section 100 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
The jury at Winchester Crown Court convicted both by a majority of 10-1.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on the four charges of manslaughter by gross negligence, and the jury has been discharged by judge Mr Justice Dingemans.
The jury at Winchester Crown Court took four days to deliberate the evidence in the trial, which opened on 7 June.
The Beneteau 40.7 capsized mid-Atlantic in May 2014 on a return delivery from Antigua Sailing Week to Southampton. After an extensive and highly publicised search and rescue operation the yacht was discovered upturned, with its keel missing.
The bodies of skipper Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey, James Male, also 22, from Romsey, Hampshire, Steve Warren 52, and Paul Goslin 56, both from Somerset, were never found.
During evidence, the court heard how the Cheeki Rafiki set out from Antigua on 4 May, 2014, taking a northerly course.
An email from Stormforce Coaching to the yacht sent on 6 May read:
“Go north, do not pass go, go north, do not collect £200, go north.”
The yacht reached around 30°N on 10 May, when it began heading north-east. An email was read out in court that the crew had sent on 14 May to Stormforce Coaching which read:
“Why is my rum floating? James just hit a hit wave hard and it fixed the stereo.”
The following day, 15 May, at 2022 UTC, the yacht sent an email to Douglas Innes with the subject heading ‘Urgent’ which read:
“We have been taking on a lot of water yesterday and today. Today seems worse I think stbd water tank has split so that it is drained checked hull and seacocks for damade [sic] but cant see any. I will go for a swim when weather improves in about 24 hours we are currently monitoring the situation horta is 900 miles away our position is Position 38deg 38 N, 048 deg 59W, thoughts from your end I will check emails in 2 hours.”
That was the final email communication from the crew. Douglas Innes received a call later that evening from the boat saying the situation was deteriorating, and notified Falmouth Coastguard.
At 0412 the following morning, skipper Andrew Bridge’s PLB was activated some 700 miles off Nova Scotia, Canada, and at 0714 that morning James Male’s PLB was also activated. The Maersk Kure spotted the upturned hull on 17 May but was unable to search or recover the yacht.
Giving evidence during the trial, the US Coastguard Captain Anthony Popiel said the search was suspended on 18 May because by that point it was assessed there was no chance the four crewmen could have survived in the water.
However, following a campaign which saw over 240,000 people sign a petition demanding that the search be restarted, and calls from the UK Foreign Office to the White House, the US National Security Advisor directed the search be resumed on 20 May.
On 23 May the USS Oscar Austin located the capsized vessel and confirmed that the liferaft was still on board.